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Ford Loses Lemon Law F-450 Transmission Appeal

By William Peacock, Esq. on June 18, 2013 4:09 PM

FORD: Fix or Repair Daily. Fails on Rainy Days. Found on Roadside Dead.

Or FORD backwards: Driver Returns on Foot. Apologies, but apparently, I’m not the only disillusioned former Ford owner.

Greg Donlen was the former proud owner of a brand-new Ford F-450 Super Duty, equipped with a TorqShift transmission, which in addition to sounding badass, had the unfortunate habits of burning out seals, shifting erratically, and popping into neutral.

First, there was a recall, which necessitated disassembling the transmission and replacing a "planetary pin." Two months later, there was another recall-repair, this time of an emissions component which required reprogramming the transmission control module. One month later, the car was again in the shop after the truck began shifting into neutral at unexpected times. Of course, the dealership was unable to replicate the problem.

Four months later, the "loud thunk[ing]" began. The technician replaced a couple of electronic components, to no avail, and then overhauled the entire transmission. The culprit was apparently a blown seal.

That was March 2006, at 17,778 miles. The warranty expired in July 2007. In July 2008, at 45,121 miles, an internal seal blew (again), necessitating another full rebuild. Donlen asked for a Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (California Lemon Law) buyback, which Ford refused.

Enter lawyers. Cue ominous music.

Ford filed two motions in limine to exclude both the out-of-warranty 2008 repair, as well as any evidence of other owners' problematic trucks. The court denied both.

Donlen's expert testified that Ford's TorqueShift transmission was known as a "problematic" automatic transmission, with multiple recalls, service bulletins, and other common issues. Donlen's truck, even after the third rebuild, was suffering from "bangs and clunks" during a pretrial test drive.

The jury found for Donlen and ordered restitution and incidental damages, for a total of about $36,000.

The judge, however, had a change of heart, granting a motion for a new trial. He found that his prior admittance of the post-warranty repair was erroneous and "confused and misled the jury and resulted in undue prejudice to Defendant Ford."

The Lemon Law's protections apply once the dealer has been given a "reasonable" number of attempts to repair a vehicle to conform to the express warranty. Though Ford felt that a post-warranty repair, made 27,343 miles later, was irrelevant to the in-warranty service and was unfairly prejudicial, the appeals court disagreed.

The post-warranty repair was relevant, as it was of a similar nature to the in-warranty repairs (blown seals, clunky shifting). As for prejudice, all relevant evidence is technically prejudicial. The question is, is it unduly prejudicial, meaning likely to "evoke an emotional bias against the defendant and which has very little effect on the issues."

Here, there is no evidence of "emotional bias" and the post-warranty repair was arguably necessitated by insufficient pre-warranty repair. The original ruling was not in error and, thus, the court lacked discretion to grant a new trial.

Original judgment (finally) affirmed.

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